Disaster-weary | Inquirer Opinion


/ 02:44 AM September 29, 2011

Quite often, the morning after dawns radically different, as though what transpired in the previous day was a mere dream, or, depending on one’s circumstances, a nightmare. Thus it was in Luzon on Wednesday morning, 24 hours after Typhoon “Pedring” swept howling through it, knocking out power lines and triggering floods the likes of which were hitherto unimaginable. Wednesday’s sun, while watery and intermittent, served to flesh out the hoary cliché of hope emerging from despair and, on the practical side of things, to help the walking wounded pick up the pieces.

Pedring now occupies a slot in the list of horrific howlers to afflict this disaster-weary country that lies smack in the typhoon belt and in the ring of fire. (Think “Ondoy,” “Milenyo” or, farther back, “Yoling.”) It has earned distinction worthy of “do-you-remember-when” anecdotes, such as the mighty US Embassy being besieged by rain, wind and high tide to a point that it had to call for help. But it also brought misery and devastation yet to be quantified, both in the metropolis and in the countryside, as well as occasions of grief as profound as a parent’s tears can make it: a toddler slipping from his father’s arms and falling into a creek to drown while the family is trying to make its way to safe ground.


In the scheme of things, reports on casualties and destruction of public and private property are now the order of the day. The number of the dead and missing climbs inexorably. The shocking extent of flooding in the provinces of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija is coming to light courtesy of television reports. The specter of spiraling prices looms ever large with the damage to agriculture pegged at P729 million. And the matter of the rescue and efficient feeding and sheltering of the displaced and homeless strains not only the resources but also the ingenuity of the government.

Pedring wrought its fury within a startling diameter of 650 kilometers, which allowed it to lash Metro Manila with whistling winds and bursts of strong rain even as it was circling Baguio City. The winds were so powerful as to leave the metropolis bereft of electricity starting in the early morning and well into the night of Tuesday. That, along with the periodic pouring rain and the halt in the metro rail and light rail operations, sufficed to give many a moment’s pause and allow those suddenly rendered idle and immobile a period in which to reflect on the wisdom of hunkering down until the tumult, whether physical or psychical, petered out.


But metaphors aside, it’s time again to examine the level of preparedness of the government and the people to deal with floods and related disasters, and whether the abundant lessons from earlier occasions of anguish have at all been heeded. The residents of Marikina City appear to be showing the way by heeding government warnings and moving to evacuation centers even without reaching the tipping point. Albay under Gov. Joey Salceda continues to uphold a “zero-casualty” standard. Still, it behooves the government to turn its full attention to the perils posed by overpopulation (and its attendant problems of improper waste disposal and clogged waterways) and by climate change (and its resultant monster storms and hurricanes) in its efforts to mitigate the effects of typhoons on the archipelago.

Yet here’s a little window on Tuesday’s melancholia: A resident of Cainta said her household was without power starting at 5 a.m. There were no newspapers. As though to take the sense of isolation farther, at 3 p.m. her two telephone lines went dead. “But we’re ok, thanks,” she said by text message. On Wednesday, she sent word that power was restored at 4 a.m., after 23 hours. Her two landlines were also back in operation, and the newspapers were delivered. In a postscript, she said she saw a firefly in her dark living room Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. It must have taken shelter from the storm, she said, affixing a smiley face to her text message.

A bit of a stretch, but the episode called to mind what Susan Sontag once told Jorge Luis Borges in a letter: “You showed that it is not necessary to be unhappy, even while one is clear-eyed and undeluded about how terrible everything is.”

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TAGS: Calamities, disasters, Flood, Pedring
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